Addressing oversight, Philly Orchestra to present work by women composers

The Philadelphia Orchestra will hold a workshop featuring the music of six women composers. 
Top row:  Eötvös, Hilary Purrington,  Xi Wang. Bottom row: Robin Holcomb, Chen-Hui Jen, and Nina C. Young. (Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Orchestra)

The Philadelphia Orchestra will hold a workshop featuring the music of six women composers. Top row: Eötvös, Hilary Purrington, Xi Wang. Bottom row: Robin Holcomb, Chen-Hui Jen, and Nina C. Young. (Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Orchestra)

Updated 11:21 a.m.

When the Philadelphia Orchestra announced its 2018-2019 season in the spring, many people noticed that there were no scheduled performances of pieces by women.

Vice president of artistic planning Jeremy Rothman called it an unintended oversight. Planning the season is a juggle of various representative criteria — including geography, racial background, time period, and gender.

“So it’s a little uneven year-to-year,” he said.

The orchestra added more concerts to the upcoming season to better represent women — Stacey Brown and Anna Clyne, both of whom had been on the orchestra’s short list for future seasons — and a day for the musicians to workshop a set of six newly written pieces by women, with the composers on hand for feedback.

“The fact that the oversight was flagged for the 2018-2019 season, it was something we addressed and are having that conversation,” said Rothman. “To the extent these readings sessions further that dialogue, we certainly welcome that.”

The reading session will be Sept. 6 – an open rehearsal of work by Melody Eötvös, Hilary Purrington, Chen-Hui Jen, Robin Holcomb, Xi Wang, and Nina C. Young. All of them had been commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra, which is partnering with the Philadelphia Orchestra on the reading sessions.

All six composers are new to the Fabulous Philadelphians, and the orchestra has never before played anything they have written. A limited audience of invited guests will be able to listen as they get to know each other.

“It’s a reading, a workshop, a laboratory; something where you can play the piece without the pressure of preparing for a performance,” said Rothman. “There’s an ability to have the space and dialogue to work on a piece for the sake of making a connection between a composer and the musicians.”

The audience will be able to witness that exchange. Behind the scenes, the composers will also be in roundtable meetings with the orchestra’s artistic team and mentor composers. A bit like a first date, composer and institution will see if they have a future together.

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